Perry sharpens rhetoric on climate science, charges data “manipulated” for money
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Texas Gov. Rick Perry

By Bill Dawson

[Updated Aug. 18, 2011]

Gov. Rick Perry, just days into his campaign for the presidency, has added a new and harsher element to his rhetoric on climate science – an allegation that many researchers, in order to keep “dollars rolling into their projects,” have “manipulated” the data that underlie concerns about human-caused disruption of the earth’s climate system.

Perry’s remarks about climate science are drawing strong rebuttals this week from Texas climate scientists who support the conclusion of the vast majority of climate researchers and other scientists that emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human activities are warming the atmosphere and altering the climate in other ways.

Perry, long publicly skeptical about manmade climate change [see below: Rick Perry on climate change], leveled his accusation about climate scientists fudging their findings to attract research funding at a campaign event in New Hampshire on Wednesday. He made the statement after being challenged by a former Republican legislator to defend the charge in his 2010 book that the science of global warming is a “contrived, phony mess.”

According to a transcript of the exchange on the ThinkProgress Green website, the former legislator, Jim Rubens, asked Perry:

If observed scientific data and the National Academy of Sciences are both wrong on an issue involving thousands of scientists, and an issue as prominent as global warming, doesn’t this call into question the entire science discovery process that forms the foundation of a hundred years of America’s technological preeminence?

Perry replied:

You may have a point there, because I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. And I think we are seeing almost weekly or even daily scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. Yes our climate’s changed, they’ve been changing ever since the earth was born. But I do not buy into a group of scientists who have in some cases found to be manipulating this information.

The governor, who staunchly supports Texas’ legal challenge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations to limit climate-changing greenhouse gases and whose appointees at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) have made Texas the only state to refuse to implement those rules, then added this further comment:

And the cost to the country and the world of implementing these anti-carbon programs is in the billions if not trillions of dollars at the end of the day. And I don’t think, from my perspective, that I want America to be engaged in spending that much money still on a scientific theory that has not been proven, and from my perspective, is being put more and more into question.

The climate science faculties at both the University of Texas and Texas A&M University (Perry’s alma mater) have signed consensus statements on their websites endorsing the findings about the manmade character of climate change by the world’s leading scientific body on the subject, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Texas Climate News unsuccessfully sought to determine Wednesday whether Perry’s charges of self-serving data manipulation apply to any faculty members at either UT or A&M, the state’s leading public universities, and to ask for names of the numerous scientists he said are regularly “coming forward and questioning” the idea of manmade climate change. A call to the governor’s office was referred to his new presidential campaign staff, which did not respond by the time this article was posted.

Asked by TCN to comment on the governor’s new allegations about climate scientists, Andrew Dessler of the Texas A&M Department of Atmospheric Sciences, emailed this response:

On the claim that climate science is driven by research funding: This purported incentive – to play games to increase funding – exists in all fields of research. Yet a large-scale conspiracy by an entire scientific field has never occurred in the past – and there’s no evidence that it’s occurring here. A more plausible explanation is that climate scientists are worried because the data are worrying.

I would add that the governor has it exactly backwards.  There is [emphasis by Dessler] evidence that climate skeptics are working off a political agenda. See [University of Alabama-Huntsville scientist and climate change skeptic] Roy Spencer’s statement, “I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.” There’s no way that you can reach that conclusion by looking at data, and it is typical of the political views of skeptics. It’s a pre-determined political goal.

As far as his claim that skeptical scientists are coming forward daily, I would point out that, of the dozens of atmospheric scientists in Texas, none of those have come out as skeptics. In fact, there are only a handful of atmospheric scientists who dispute the mainstream view in the entire world – and their ranks are not increasing.

Dessler’s final point was supported last week by the investigation of PolitiFact, a project of the St. Petersburg Times in Florida and winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, which describes itself as a fact-checking service to help the public “find the truth in American politics.”

Last week, PolitiFact published its findings about a statement by former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who, before dropping out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination last weekend, had said that “the weight of the evidence [on global warming] is that most of it, maybe all of it, is because of natural causes … it’s fair to say the science is in dispute.”

By way of context, PolitiFact noted:

Climate change has become a touchy subject in the Republican primary. Though some candidates once supported plans to reduce carbon emissions, such strategies have fallen out of favor with Republicans in recent years. Even acknowledging that human beings are causing climate change can be politically problematic for some Republicans.

Summarizing its findings about the truth or falsehood of Pawlenty’s, which echoed key elements of Perry’s own skepticism about climate science, the fact-checking service said:

Based on our research, there is very little dispute in the scientific community, especially among climate specialists, on whether climate change is primarily caused by natural or manmade forces. The overwhelming majority of scientists polled feel that human activity is the primary driver of climate change. Also, based on scientific studies by the IPCC and others, global warming over the past 50 years has been primarily driven by human activity.

Based upon the preponderance of evidence we conclude that Tim Pawlenty’s claims are both incorrect and misleading to the public, who may not be familiar with the science behind climate change. It is not “fair to say the science is in dispute,” as if there are good arguments on both sides. Rather, there is significant scientific consensus that human beings are contributing to global warming. We rate his statement False.

Another Texas climate scientist pushing back against Perry’s climate skepticism this week was Katharine Hayhoe, an associate professor at Texas Tech University and director of  its Climate Science Center. Hayhoe was the co-author with her husband, evangelical Christian pastor Andrew Farley, of the 2009 book, A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions.

Responding to a request from Texas Climate News for her reaction to Perry’s accusation, Hayhoe said by email:

Many aspects of basic and applied physical science receive funding from the same sources. If one aspect of physical science is “made up” – and that aspect is based on fundamental physics that’s been around for hundreds of years – then by the same logic other fields of physical science that depend on the same basic principles should be subject to the same accusations. If the veracity of one of these fields is an issue, then by the same argument, all federally-funded physical science should be called into question.

Hayhoe was asked earlier in the week by ThinkProgress Green to comment on Perry’s statements in his own book, Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America from Washington, that climate science is a “contrived, phony mess,” based on “so-called science” as part of a “secular carbon cult.”

In response, Hayhoe, like her husband an evangelical Christian, wrote a blog post that was published on Tuesday, in which she said, in part:

The science of climate change is based on fundamental physical principles that we’ve known about for several hundred years. Every time we burn coal, gas, or oil, it produces carbon dioxide. By digging massive amounts of these fossil fuels out of the ground and burning them, we are disrupting the natural carbon cycle and causing carbon dioxide to build up in the atmosphere.

[…]

Shooting the messenger who brings bad news is an old habit; but we all know it does nothing to change the news itself. In the same way, dismissing hundreds of years’ worth of science because it doesn’t give us the answer we want to hear will not change the facts.

Humans are altering the average conditions of the planet. So what can we do?

We can continue to challenge the reality of the issue; or we can seize this as an opportunity to wean ourselves off our dependence on the old, dirty, inefficient, and limited fuels of the past. Instead, we can make wise choices — conserving the resources we do have, and investing in our own economy to develop clean sources of energy that will not run out on us and will ensure better lives for our children. Who doesn’t want that??

ThinkProgress Green asked Rubens, the New Hampshire Republican who asked Perry about his climate skepticism, to comment on the governor’s reply. The website reported that Rubens said:

Rick Perry is a very impressive candidate in demeanor, personality, and directly [sic], but he is simply citing false information and implying that there is some large-scale conspiracy among scientists, including the National Academy of Sciences. Candidates running for president need to cite the facts as they are.

Perry’s sharpening of his rhetoric on climate science this week further delineates his position on the climate issue from that of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, widely seen as the GOP frontrunner before Perry got in the race and now as Perry’s chief rival for the Republican nomination. Perry’s allegation this week that climate findings are manipulated to get funding echoes a theme that has appeared in some conservative commentary on the subject, such as readers’ online comments on articles and blog posts, for a number of years.

The Reuters news service reported in June on a statement by Romney on the climate issue, which represented a clear division between his viewpoint and such charges:

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney broke with Republican orthodoxy […] by saying he believes that humans are responsible, at least to some extent, for climate change.

“I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that,” he told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.”

[…]

In addressing climate change and energy policy, Romney called on the United States to break its dependence on foreign oil, and expand alternative energies including solar, wind, nuclear and clean coal.

Perry’s skepticism about climate science is shared by the current TCEQ chairman, Bryan W. Shaw, but not by another Perry appointee to the environmental commission, Larry Soward, who has since retired from state employment.

Shaw, at his state Senate confirmation hearing in 2009, said he does not think the science of manmade global warming has been “fully vetted.” He added:

Fortunately or unfortunately having a consensus of a group of scientists doesn’t make that fully settled. There are still certainly those renowned scientists that still express skepticism and moreover I think that it warrants a critical process of looking forward because the implications of moving forward based on the assumption that manmade contribution is the primary driver of climate change may close windows of opportunity for us with regard to the environmental good that we’re trying to achieve.

Soward, asked by TCN to comment on Perry’s new comments about climate science on Wednesday, emailed this response:

I DO [emphasis by Soward] agree with him that “the issue of global warming has been politicized,” but let’s look at who really has made it political! If he is truly “seeing almost weekly or even daily scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change,” who are they? Let’s see some names – of true scientists, though. For someone (and his appointees) who wants environmental decisions to be made on sound science, it is utterly amazing to me how conveniently dismissive he is to a huge and growing body of worldwide science.

+++++

Rick Perry on climate change

Gov. Rick Perry’s public pronouncements on climate change have progressed from a folksy, sometimes joking skepticism to his sharper-edged accusations that research findings behind the widely-held scientific conclusion that human beings are altering the earth’s climate are essentially a hoax. Here’s a sample of his statements over the past four years.

From a 2007 speech to California Republicans, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman:

I’ve heard Al Gore talk about man-made global warming so much that I’m starting to think that his mouth is the leading source of all that supposedly deadly carbon dioxide.

Virtually every day another scientist leaves the global warming bandwagon. … But you won’t read about that in the press because they have already invested in one side of the story. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be good stewards of our environment. We should. I am just saying when politics hijack science, it quells true scientific debate and can have dire consequences for our future.

From a 2009 response to a reporter in Austin, asking whether he thought carbon dioxide levels should be reduced and by how much, transcribed by Texas Climate News from a video on the governor’s website:

[Referring to the federal agency’s then-still-pending initiative to regulate the principal greenhouse gas from human activities:] The CO2 issue – we felt like that the EPA made an error when it decided to make CO2 a toxic substance . I mean the idea that CO2 is a toxic substance is a bit hard for this, you know, agricultural scientist to get his arms around when Nobel Peace Prize or Nobel laureates have talked about CO2 in a very positive sense, when you talk about the Green Revolution.

[By “Green Revolution,” Perry was referring to the increase in crop production in developing nations in the latter part of the 20th century that goes by that name.]

So I just think – and there are a number of scientists across the country that agree – that making CO2 a substance that somehow or another is toxic is quite a leap and one again that would be devastating towards a state like Texas.

[Referring to the then-pending cap-and-trade bill to lower greenhouse gas emissions, which passed the U.S. House but never became law:] This is gonna get down to this – are the Democrats in Congress willing to stand up and say listen, we’re fixing to raise everybody’s cost of living in America on some science that’s still yet to be solidified? And if they’re willing to do that, that’s their right. But we’re going to stand up in Texas and defend our citizens and their right to have a little freedom left.

From his 2010 book, Fed Up:

For example, they have seen the headlines in the past year about doctored data related to global warming. They know we have been experiencing a cooling trend, that the complexities of the global atmosphere have often eluded the most sophisticated scientists, and that draconian policies with dire economic effects based on so-called science may not stand the test of time. Quite frankly, when science gets hijacked by the political Left, we should all be concerned. …

And it’s all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight. Al Gore is a prophet all right, a false prophet of a secular carbon cult, and now even moderate Democrats aren’t buying it.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons